Today.

Amy close-up

Today, I made a tag for Amy’s collar. It has other phone numbers on it. Not mine. Not Jim’s.

Today, little Amy becomes Ruby. They are both fine names. The latter has great implications. It is a name a new family has picked for her. It means today is a great day.

Today a puppy gets to go home. It means another day of change for her, and I’m sure some confusion. But she’ll handle it. I know she will. I have picked THIS home for her and it’s right. It’s wonderful. She’ll have a doggy brother. She’ll have two humans to adore her. She’ll have everything she needs and wants. She’ll have the best life.

Today my heart aches just a bit. So does Jim’s. It’s quite impossible not to get attached. They live in our home. They sleep with us. They play with us. They come here out of need. They leave here with our love.

And yes, today is a great day. Though our hearts pull a bit at goodbye, we are thrilled for what is ahead for this little girl who is so brave and so deserving. No more question marks. No more uncertaintly. No more puppy mill life for you, sweet Amy. Go be the best Ruby you can be!

Today we turn back into the house and look immediately into two new sets of hopeful eyes. My heart swells filling in the tiny cracks that were there just a moment ago.

I think I’ll call you Peanut and Olivia. For now.

Peanut and Olivia

 

 

All That Matters.

Brother DakotaI get yelled at.

I get called names.

I get cuss words thrown at my face, and I’m sure behind my back.

I had one man try to intimidate me physically. (For the record, it absolutely did not work.)

I’m told I’ve made children cry. (Umm…no, that would be the parents who make premature promises.)

And all of this because of my chosen “hobby.” Or passion, more accurately.

Jim and I rescue and re-home dogs. If you’ve been reading along, you know that. Formally, together with a good friend, we are the Dalmatian Assistance League, Inc. But we don’t limit our love to only our spotted dogs…we’ve opened our home and hearts to any number of dogs in all shapes, sizes, colors, and breeds. It’s our thing. It’s a life we love.

Of course with taking in a good number of homeless dogs, comes the need to find new homes for said dogs because, as I always say, it’s a fine line between rescuer and hoarder. We want to stay on the right side of that line.

1924925_10208602696168516_4029565097214493627_nSo when we foster a dog, it’s our job to get to know that dog really well, to work with the dog to teach it some manners (manners may or may not include sleeping in our bed and learning to take food gently off of an offered fork), to teach good potty habits (outside being preferable), and to provide socialization so we know how our dogs react in different situations and to different people. All of this is to prep a dog to find a perfect “happily-ever-after” home.

And then there is the people part of this whole process. While we are getting to know the dogs, we are also beginning the process of screening homes for each of them. Honestly, the dog part – complete with accidents in the house, shoes and furniture chewed, non-stop barking in the crate training process, mounting vet bills, etc. – is far, far easier than the people part.

For me, anyhow. (And I’m betting 99.9% of all people involved in animal welfare feel the same.)

So here’s how it works. We take in a new foster dog and start the “getting to know you” process. After a few days, we post the dog on a website called PetFinder, as well as on our Facebook page. Soon, the people part starts to roll in.

We get inquiries about our dogs. We send them adoption applications and answer any and all questions they may have. I always, ALWAYS explain that our placement process is based on “best match” for each individual dog. Best match means that I take what I know about my foster dogs and compare that information to the answers given by prospective homes on our adoption application.

We can weed through applications fairly quickly this way. For example, a four-foot fence won’t work for a dog that can jump everything but a six foot fence. A dog who is scared of little children won’t fair well in a home with a toddler or two. An elderly dog may not be a good match in a home with a six month old Rottweiler. You get the idea.

And to that end, the questions on our adoption application are fairly open-ended. We need an accurate picture of your home, your hopes for adding a dog, your family dynamic. Then we can work with you to hopefully find a good match. Or not.

Some people really, really have issue with the “or not” part.

I turn down more homes than I allow to adopt one of my dogs. I don’t do it because they are not potentially good homes for a dog (though admittedly some people seeking a dog aren’t even equipped to care for a goldfish), I turn them down because they are not the right match for one of my dogs – the dogs Jim and I know really well.

When I inform someone that they will not be adopting the dog they fell in love with from a static photo on the Internet, I get some interesting reactions. I try very hard to let people down gently and explain why I do not feel my dog is a good match for their situation. Some people are very understanding and accept my redirection toward a different dog…or perhaps a nice houseplant.

Others, however, immediately make it their life’s mission to change my mind. They plead. They promise to change whatever it is that got them rejected (you’ll place your toddler in a new home until he/she reaches the age of 18?). They assure me that I’m quite wrong and that they CAN make things work with the exceedingly active puppy they have their hearts set on despite the fact that they have no fenced yard and work a 12 hour day.

One woman recently yelled at me as she informed me they HAD to have my puppy and if I require a fenced yard, I should spell out the rules for adopting right from the start. I tried to nicely explain that my rules are different for every dog I place. There is no one definition for a perfect home. Plus, if I toss my open-ended questions aside and make it really clear exactly what I’m looking for, people…ok, SOME people…will simply lie.

Yes, they will give me the answers I want to hear so they can adopt that dog with the cute black patch over his eye. Shocking, I know. People lie.

And then some of them tell me how messed up my system is. How terrible I am. How I should be jumping at the chance to place my foster dog with them because their home is surely better than no home at all.

Um. No. No it’s not. MY HOME is better than no home at all. My foster dogs are not in danger. They are not suffering. They are not lacking anything. What they are is waiting for the chance at the very good, very perfect life each and every one of them deserves. And if that means I have to upset a few humans along the way? Well, I just don’t care.

I really, really don’t care.

Go ahead. Yell at me. Tell me I’m crazy. Call me a b*tch (umm, yeah. It’s been known to happen). I’ll smile through it. I’ll wish you luck in finding the right dog. I’ll turn the other cheek. I can do that because when I get it right, when I do find that match made in Heaven, it makes all of the rough stuff dissolve away. It makes everything worthwhile.

Pepper and Kane

Photo used with permission.

I’ve had some great placements lately. Summer brought a little flood of puppies in need, Dalmatian and otherwise. It has been a busy few months and some of my applicants have been unusually “inventive” and, shall we say, pushy. But on the flip side of that coin, many of my applicants have been absolutely amazing.

One woman inquired about a specific dog and I told them she was not right for their family for various reasons. They thanked me for my honesty and asked if I had another dog that might be right. And I did. And she is. And now a darling five year old boy has the best friend of his young life. The dog he will remember with a happy heart forever. Best match.

Cinder and dad rev

Photo used with permission.

Another young couple wanted to get their first dog together. No, no fenced yard. An apartment, in fact. But they were both active hikers and runners…did I have a good fit for them? I did. And she is spectacularly happy with them. Best match.

And then there were the guys who lost their beloved Dalmatian of 15+ years. Their hearts still very tender. Were they ready for a new friend? Did I have one special dog that might be their new beginning? I did. And he is. And when this precious puppy met his new person, he never looked back at me because I got it right. Very right. Best match.

Dakota and LouisSo here’s the deal. You are more than welcome to apply to adopt one of my foster dogs. Jim and I have taken in some GREAT dogs. You can ask all the questions you like. You will answer the questions I have on my application. I will likely ask you some more questions. I’m going to be nosy. I’m going to check your references. I’m going to want to see your home. I’m not alone in this process, most good rescue groups will do the same.

And then I’ll tell you whether or not I have a dog that would be a good fit for you. If I tell you no, you can accept that, you can listen to my rationale, you can choose to accept my help in finding a better match for your family. Or you can get mad at me. By getting mad, you only confirm for me that you were truly not the right match. I thank you for that, and trust me,  your angry words slide right off me.

Because when Jim and I select a home, when we have no more questions to ask, it’s usually very right and it’s a lasting, forever kind of match. We owe that to our foster dogs. They’ve already had their lives disrupted in one form or another, we want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“Best match” is apparent when a dog greets his new owner for the very first time like a long-lost friend. Best match is when the foster dog that slept with his head on my shoulder the night before, gives me a quick kiss goodbye and trots off looking up adoringly at his new human. Best match is getting a photo of a precious five-year-old watching cartoons with his new dog stretched out contentedly by his side.

You can like me, or not. You can listen to me, or you can be angry. This isn’t a popularity contest. In the end, it’s about a wagging tail in a safe, happy, perfect home. And we’re always willing to wait for the right one.

That’s all that really matters. Plus, the really cool people we meet far outweigh the negative-Nancy types (Oh WHY does my name have to be in that phrase?).

Now, on to the next dog!

JIm and buddy don rev

 

 

Merry Monday. Wonderful Wednesday.

MerryAs I was making the drive to work today in the predawn gray, I couldn’t help but scan the roadside. It was a habit several months old. It was going to be a hard habit to break.

It was my daily routine of keeping watch for Merry and Nick, two stray dogs that have been living on their own along our country roads near Mounds, Oklahoma. I’ve been watching for Merry since late summer (original story here, follow-up here). Nick joined the party just over a month ago when he apparently fell head over heels in love with Merry. They made quite the pair – a frustrating pair because, despite repeated attempts from numerous people in the area, they constantly eluded all who tried to rescue them.

And SO many caring people were trying to help them. Almost every time I stopped to try to sweet talk the dogs, another car would stop, another person would tell me about how they had been feeding them and trying to catch them. It seemed everyone within three square miles, and even beyond, had been keeping an eye out for the dogs.

At times, it seemed a little futile. When Merry was traveling solo, she would recognize my Jeep, as well as the cars of her other “regulars.” She would perk up, come close, even wagging her tail a bit as she stretched her neck out to accept food. Then she’d dance nimbly out of reach. Merry was a streetwise young lady. She knew how to survive.

When Nick started roaming with Merry – the two were rarely more than a few feet apart – things changed. Nick seemed even more fearful and uncertain than his partner. The moment I tried to step out of my Jeep to offer the dogs a snack, Nick would immediately retreat, glancing over his shoulder suspiciously. When Nick ran, Merry ran. She was a loyal girl.

Loyal to a fault. Loyal to a cold-of-winter-lots-of-predators-out-here fault.

The dogs’ pattern stayed pretty consistent until about a week ago Monday. It was then that the two dogs started coming an extra mile south to actually visit our house. Yes, they actually came straight to our doorstep.

I would like to tell you that our mad animal communication skills brought Merry and Nick to us, convincing them to trust us. But that would be a lie.

In reality, I’m fairly sure our latest little Dalmatian mix foster dog, who popped into her heat cycle just after we agreed to take her, was the grand attraction at Tails You Win Farm.

imageWhile Nick was obviously devoted to Merry, he was also unable to resist the scent of another lovely lady. The weird part of this new development was their routine. Nick and Merry visited our house every day between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. Our security cameras don’t lie. You could almost set your clock by them.

Of course our foster dog was always safe and secure in the house where the temptation of intact boys could not reach her. But sequestered as she was, Nick still knew she was here and remained hopeful that he might add another lovely to his little harem.

Jim and I decided this was just the break we needed. While out for a run one day, Jim had met Tony, a man who had a large live trap he was using to see if he could catch the strays. Jim called Tony and offered to let him place the trap by our house to see if we could lure the dogs in during one of their treks up our long drive.

On day one, the dogs somehow managed to grab the bait without springing the trap. Day two, the dogs visited while we were still home. Our dogs raced into the yard, sounding the alert, and sent Nick and Merry scampering back toward the road.

This bring us to Merry Monday.

It was about 4:00 in the afternoon and I was racing home from work after receiving a text photo from Jim showing several of our horses on the wrong side of our pasture fence. I hurried to the farm in case our little herd decided not to cooperate for Jim and his bucket of feed. Thankfully, I didn’t see one horse out of place as I pulled through our gate. What I did see as I rounded the curve to the house? Two dogs huddled together in the live trap.

TrappedTWO for ONE! Nick and Merry couldn’t resist the temptation of the latest bait I placed in the trap and somehow went after it in tandem.

Relief. Oh what a loaded word that was on Merry Monday!

I was relieved we caught both dogs. I was so afraid we might catch one and not the other. That would have been a tough situation.

I was relieved that these two dogs would never have to spend another day fending for themselves, finding meals where and when they could.

I was relieved that Nick and Merry would never have another night out in the cold where dogs easily become prey for coyotes.

I was relieved I would never find either dog on the shoulder of the road after a run-in with a car.

All of the worries I had pushed to the back of my mind flooded out and flew away at the sight of those two scared dogs who had no idea their lives just took a huge turn for the better.

Jim was beside the crate, feeding the dogs yummy treats through the wire as he worked to calm them and gain their trust. Growling and cowering just moments before, Nick was now eagerly accepting scraps, licking every last bit from Jim’s fingers. Merry was quiet and stressed, but seemed approachable.

The magic of Merry Monday did not stop there. Jim called Tony, the man who loaned us the trap.  Tony had been working with an area veterinarian to try to catch the dogs. Dr. Corrina Tressler, of Green Country Animal Hospital, also lived in the vicinity and had been on the lookout for the dogs. A few quick phone calls later we learned that Dr. Tressler would welcome our little couple at her hospital.

HOORAY! Merry and Nick had a temporary place to stay where they could receive excellent care. All we had to do was get them there.

Working slowly and cautiously to avoid startling the dogs and potentially allowing them to escape, we opened the trap and got a slip lead on Merry. She was scared, but easy to handle and came out of the crate. One down, one still to go.

Nick was no longer growling, but he was also clearly not convinced  he was ready to trust these humans no matter how enticing the bribes, so he pushed himself into a ball at the back of the trap. At the same time,we weren’t yet convinced that we could just reach in to slip a lead on Nick, so we just loaded the whole heavy trap, dog and all, into the back of my Jeep.

Merry and I hopped into the back to stay close by Nick, the dogs really did not want to be out of each other’s sight, and Jim chauffeured us on the eight mile trip to the dogs’ “hotel.”

On the ride there, I noticed Nick starting to relax, accepting my fingers petting him through the wire crate. It was becoming clear that Nick was falling into the “all bark and no bite” category.  He may have put on a bit of a show initially, but he would soon prove that he was just a sweet, silly boy.

12522950_10208784371390283_7577128543902788784_nUpon arrival at the veterinary hospital, Jim and I decided we could let Nick out of the crate while still in the safety of the Jeep. It was time for all of us to learn to trust each other. Jim opened the trap door and I reached inside to slip a lead around Nick’s big bully head.

The leash seemed to flip a switch in Nick’s brain and he came straight out of the crate with a wide smile on his face and a wagging tail. Jim helped Nick hop into the parking lot and I followed with a still nervous Merry. Where Nick led, Merry followed, and Nick led with great enthusiasm. Suddenly Jim and I, along with everyone he met at the vet hospital, were Nick’s new best friends. Quite a change from the fearful, skittish stray we had been following for weeks.

Once inside, the dogs got a quick check-up, vaccinations, and heart worm tests. Nick received a clean bill of health, while Merry, not surprisingly after months with no proper care, came back heart worm positive. Not the best news, but with Dr. Tressler on her side, Merry would receive the costly treatment she needed to clear her system of the parasites and ensure her good health going forward.

12540767_10208784371550287_251190651360046121_nThe dogs were settled in comfortable kennels with soft blankets, clean water and bowls full of good food. It must have seemed like paradise to the road weary pair.

Jim and I left the hospital laughing and celebrating on a “rescuer’s high.” From the viewpoint of a longtime dog rescue volunteer, there are few feelings that rival the moment when you finally help an elusive stray get to safety . This was a day to celebrate. Merry Monday will go down in Jim and Nancy history as a favorite new holiday.

And now for Wonderful Wednesday. Today after work, I returned to the vet to visit Merry and Nick.

Nervous and unsure no more, I found both dogs resting comfortably in their kennels. When I let them out for a visit, they both greeted me like a dear best friend, taking turns hopping in my lap and covering my face with excited kisses. It was a grand welcome.

I shared some yummy treats with my new friends and I gave each a nice new chew bone to enjoy. They both returned to their kennels, relaxed and secure. Happy sure suits them.

Tomorrow, Merry, who has obviously already been a young mother, will be spayed and Mr. Nick will be neutered. Once Merry has recovered from her surgery, she will begin treatment for her heart worms. I have no doubt she’ll come through the lengthy process with flying colors. She deserves nothing less.

Jim and I are going to stay in close contact with the dogs and with Dr. Tressler. We’re going to help raise donations to cover their expenses. We’re going to work to help them find a great home – hopefully one home for both dogs. They are very bonded and would obviously love to stay together. There’s so much good ahead for these two.

So yes, through force of habit, I’m sure I’ll continue to scan the roads for Nick and Merry on a daily basis for some time to come. And each time I catch myself looking, I know I’ll smile and celebrate all over again. Thanks to so many caring people, Nick and Merry will now have their happily-ever-after.

We just have a couple more chapters of their story to write.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Your Favorite Toy

IMG_0882 (2)I woke with the sun serving as my alarm clock this morning. A quick search of my sleep-fogged brain confirmed it was Sunday so I gave a contented, don’t-have-to-be-anywhere sigh, and snuggled with our still-sleeping dogs for a moment more.

With a stretch and a happy heart, I crawled out of bed and headed out to the backyard to say hello to the day. The dogs raced through the open door, all signs of our recent state of slumber abandoned as they made dark trails through the too-long grass still laden with dew. It was a golden morning with a light breeze that carried the scent of…the scent of…skunk.

Ah, country life. Sometimes it just doesn’t exactly smell great. But it’s still great. Because I can walk outside in my jammies and no one is there to care. Skunk smelly or not, it’s a good life.

Of course I did have to check to be sure the smell was just on the wind and not coming from any of said dogs. All dogs verified normal dog-smelly and not skunk-smelly (and yes, that HAS happened…in mass…one dog holding said skunk and spinning in a big circle to be sure ALL of the dogs in the yard got a good dose), I tossed a ball for a quick game of chase.

Several dogs took off after the one, lone ball bouncing to the far corner of the yard. One dog came out the victor and was immediately “it” as the other dogs vied for the prized toy. Ahhh, the struggle of being in a multi-dog household. Someone always has THE toy. The best toy.

Of course the best toy is whichever toy another dog has.

PearlThis game of fetch and the ensuing spirited game of tag brought a quick smile to my face, but not for the reason you might think. It made me smile thinking about the dog missing from this morning’s romp.

Yes, we are one dog short today. Friday night I met a very nice young man at a McDonald’s that is midway between my home and his home in a nearby city. There, my foster dog Tori officially became his dog; the dog he has been excited to welcome into his life since the moment he met her three weeks ago and passed my scrutiny (hey…you have to prove you are worthy if you want to adopt one of my foster dogs!).

I handed over vet records, a bag of her food, and gave last minute instructions as he paid his adoption fee. Then I gave Tori one last kiss on the nose as I promised her this sudden change in her life was a very, very good thing.

I’m not sure she believed me, but, with a little coaxing, she hopped in her new person’s car and off they went.

Tori and ball revWithin a couple hours of arriving back home, I received a text stating that Tori had already selected her favorite new toy and, after dinner and some playtime, was sound asleep. Asleep in her home. Asleep by her new human. Asleep with her special toy.

Now, a couple of days into her new life, the one-time stray dog has made herself right at home with her new person. She has already made lots of new friends, both human and dog. And did I mention she has a favorite ball?

So for everyone who asks how Jim and I take in so many great dogs, love them, let them live as our own, and then let them leave, this story is my answer. It’s all about letting them find their favorite new toy (you could replace the word toy with human).

Hey, IMG_3189Hannah…you’re next. There is most definitely a special toy out there with your name on it, too.

How I Know I’m Not A Hoarder

Robbie toby

If you’ve been reading along with my blog, you may realize that Jim and I share our world with a number of dogs. Admittedly, by normal standards, it’s a large number of dogs.

So let me explain in case you don’t already know us. Jim and I have our “on purpose” dogs, our “showed up and never left” dogs, and our foster dogs.

On purpose dogs are those we planned. Our show dogs are on purpose dogs. Many of our Dalmatians, the breed we both adore, are on purpose dogs.

The “showed up and never left” dogs (SUNL) are dogs that come in as strays or as rescues from area shelters and just never manage to leave. We take in a lot of older dogs that don’t have great potential for adoption. They fall into the SUNL category.They are welcome to come here to live their lives out as one of our own dogs.

Hazel, Gus and Candy are our resident senior SUNLs at the moment. They are sweet old dogs who grace our home and lives for whatever time they have. Some stay for years, some stay for months. We love them all.

Then we have the SUNLs that are what we call foster fails. A foster fail is a homeless dog you take intending to provide it a temporary home…but then you get attached. And then you end up adopting the dog yourself.

It happens. I should know.

It happened to me the day I went to the Sapulpa Animal Shelter to pick up a little cattle dog to foster. The shelter was full and they were asking for volunteers to provide temporary homes for some of the dogs so none would have to be euthanized.

Sign me up.Edie Nan selfie

But then I got Edie in the car with me and we took a good look at each other.

Oops.

If you don’t believe in love at first sight, let me be the first to tell you that it does indeed exist. Edie sleeps on my pillow every night.

And there was the tiny Dalmatian puppy that we plucked from a Craigslist ad on behalf of our local Dalmatian Rescue organization. She was three and a half months old and the new owners found that a baby puppy AND a human toddler were too much for them to handle at the same time. Ah, buyer’s remorse.

580194_10201013777690297_1437750559_nI will never forget the look on Jim’s face when he took that tiny spotted puppy into his arms. I sensed my first “uh-oh” moment in that instant.

The pup was not in great health…her initial owners had not taken her to the veterinarian for necessary vaccinations and worming.  We had to give this little “foster” puppy some time to get healthy and put on a little weight before we could list her for adoption.

Do I really have to tell you that she “showed up and never left?”

This brings us to our final category, our foster dogs. We foster a lot of dogs. At any given time we may have five or six dogs living with us that are available for adoption. Of course you have to pass the Nancy/Jim standard to be approved, but we love finding the perfect home for each of our foster dogs.

foursome

Foster dogs? SUNLs? It’s a fuzzy line sometimes. Robby is he dark dog in the back…and he just might have a wonderful new home.

And because we are willing to let our foster dogs leave the Tails You Win Farm nest doesn’t mean we love them any less. It doesn’t mean that at all.

It means we have simply run out of room on the bed.

Ok, it really means a bit more than that.

It means we know that there is a great home out there for a great dog and it’s our job to make that match.

I remember talking with a woman who rescued a huge number of dogs (she makes us look like complete amateurs). I asked her about some puppies I knew she had and was shocked when she told me she would not be trying to place any of them. Why? Her response was simple.

“No one can love these dogs as much as I do.”

Yikes. Call Animal Planet. I think we have an episode brewing here.

And this is how I know we’re not hoarders.

Well, there are actually a number of things that set Jim and I apart from dog hoarders…good conditions, healthy spayed/neutered dogs, top notch dog food, regular vet care, no random bowls of dog food overflowing on counters and floors throughout the house, no vile odor wafting from the house into the front yard, no filthy, unkempt dogs (well, I make no promises during mud season), and no cats. You have to toss in the random trailer full of cats in a true hoarding situation. Oh, and we don’t have 30…40…50…100 dogs.

But the real reason I am quite sure we are not hoarders? Because we are very willing to let our lovely foster dogs go to new, well-screened, responsible, fantastic, deserving, wonderful, capable, loving homes (we have strict standards…all adjectives must apply).

I absolutely believe someone can love my foster dogs as much as I do. I have numerous “happily ever after” stories to prove it.

Today, we’re hopefully proving it once again. My foster dog Robby is off visiting a potential home today. If all goes well, his adoption will be finalized this week and he will live his life as the center of attention for a lovely retired couple.

They have a dog bed in just about every room of the house ready and waiting for him. They will take him for walks. They will sit outside with him on beautiful summer evenings. They will slip him little treats from their plates at the dinner table. They will give him everything he could possibly need and then some.

Although Robby looked a bit surprised as I left him behind at the front door with those friendly strangers (the hardest part of rescue for me…how do I explain why I’m leaving?), I have no doubt that he’ll soon settle in to be the devoted companion I know he can be, and I know this couple is ready to reciprocate the adoration.

Nope, we’re not hoarders. I’m quite sure of it. I know because we love Robby so very much, we’re willing to let him go.

Be a good boy, Robby. I think these are your perfect people.

(But we’re right here if you ever need us!)

Wolfdog in the House: Kainan 1, Couch 0

20140930_093441revThe title of this post could also be “When Bad Things Happen to Perfectly Good Couches.”

Now, before I detail the event that I am wild guessing you have already surmised, let me back up and share with you the one caution I always send home with anyone who adopts a dog from me: There will likely be a honeymoon period. During the adoption honeymoon, you will think you have adopted the perfect dog.

You will be amazed at how clever your new dog is. You will brag that he has not had one accident in the house. You will tell all of your friends that you can’t believe this dog ended up with a rescue group or in a shelter. You will develop a false sense of trust. You will let your guard down. Yes, despite my sincere, expert warning, you will relax.

And then it’s over. The honeymoon ends. It may be after two or three weeks, or even a month. And it will end in some potentially profound, eye-opening way after your “perfect” dog has settled in nicely and has started to feel secure. Oh yes, they let you believe that they are furry little angels and then…BAM. They blindside you.

In reality, the end of your honeymoon actually may not be anything too tragic. Keep it all in perspective.

A chewed shoe? Big deal. Wearing two matching shoes is SO last season.

A little accident on the floor? Clean it up and pay closer attention.

He snagged the sandwich right off your plate when you turned your head? Well, that’s just funny. Make another one.

Yes, your new dog may pull a little stunt or two…or your new wolfdog just might eat your couch. Ok, not the whole couch, but that’s only because morning dawned and a wolfdog can only consume so much couch in one sitting.

Now, I can hear wolfboy’s loyal fans asking, “Who’s to say it was Kainan who ate the obviously delicious leather couch?”

20141024_081500It’s true. There are potentially several likely suspects in my home. And it might have been a bit of a mystery, except that just I was snapping a photo of the damage so I could share the joy with Jim (he’s out of town…I blame him for this…if he had been home, he would have fallen asleep on that couch and this never would have happened), lo and behold Kainan photo-bombed the couch and grabbed another bite.

This tells me that he has no idea that couchicide is a major crime. It appears I have some training to do before I dare purchase a new chew toy disguised as furniture. Meanwhile, thank goodness designer duct tape is now all the rage in home decor. (Well, in MY home it is. Don’t judge.)

I will miss our honeymoon, dear Kainan, even though the honeymoon itself was filled with stolen items, mischief, and a bit of occasional mayhem. It all seems so trivial now…so very trivial.

Hey Kainan, guess who is going to revoke your “sleep loose in the house” privileges for the foreseeable future? The old ball and chain she-human, that’s who.

Yes, the honeymoon is over. But hey…I was growing tired of that couch anyway.

(He’s still worth it.)

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Wolfdog in the House: Seeing My Muse Through Responsible Eyes

Shadow wolfIt’s easy to forget that this relationship could ever be anything but wonder-filled and fun. Kainan the wolfdog is out in the yard with my other teenager dogs, gallooping about in a silly, carefree morning melee that resembles tag-you’re-it.

Why yes, I did make that word up.  “Gallooping.” Just the way it bumps off your tongue perfectly describes Kainan’s unique gait as he works to control those gangly legs and big feet. Guh-LOOP-ing.  He is on the cusp of graceful…I give him a few more months.

I think it is fairly clear that Jim and I are completely in love with this boy as we help him live out his wags to riches story as a member of our family. He is so charming; he has become my most generous muse for story after story. His distinctive howl serving as my new morning alarm clock has been the most natural fit in the world.

However, as I tell stories about him, as Kainan gains a bit of a following, I have to wonder if I am painting a clear picture about life with a wolfdog. Have my stories to date have created an all-daisies-and-sunshine image of life with this boy? Do I even fully understand what the realities of life with a wolfdog may be? After all, Kainan kind of just dropped into our world. We didn’t exactly plan to acquire a wolfdog.

For many people, these wolfdogs are beloved companions and I totally understand it. There is something so amazing about having a creature living in your home that is beautiful, loyal, and, at the same time, inherently mystical.

Whether or not you agree with the concept of crossing a domestic dog with a wild animal to create a species that lives in the gray area between the two (and I actually don’t agree with the concept on many levels…but we’ll chat about that another time), there is no doubt that people are fascinated by wolfdogs. In the right hands, these animals can be incredible teachers and are undeniably appealing. Ah, but there is that tricky “in the right hands” thing.

It reminds me of the late 1980s/early 1990s when Disney started the Dalmatian frenzy. Now, for all of my friends who adore Disney, I am not taking the dear man’s name and namesake empire in vain. I’m just stating fact. The re-release of the original animated 101 Dalmatians, quickly followed by the live-action version, and then the make-Dalmatian-fanciers-pound-their-heads-against-a-wall 102 Dalmatians movie had everyone seeing spots. People rushed to own their own little cartoon puppy. Lots of people. In response, lots of people happily created supply to meet demand. It was a catastrophe.

The dogs in the movie were charming. The Dalmatians snoozing all around my desk right now are also charming, beautiful canine characters. I can’t imagine my life without it being full of spots. They are affectionate, smart, athletic, and…well…hysterically fun. If ever a dog was born with a sense of humor, it is the Dalmatian.

But are they the right dog for everyone?  Most definitely not. No breed of dog is right for everyone…just as wolfdogs aren’t right for everyone.

Despite what I would like to believe about my own popularity, truth be told, my stories about Kainan haven’t likely thrust wolfdogs into the spotlight (oh…I made a funny!) in a Disneyesque manner. My blog is just a few billion followers shy of Walt-status. However, I am speaking out…people are reading…asking questions…and a few have expressed a desire to live with a Kainan of their own. Who wouldn’t want one?  How cool is it to share your home with the big, not-so-bad wolf? Right? Right?

PlayingAs I watch Kainan gallooping (you’re starting to like that word, aren’t you?) from the yard, through the dog door, and into the house to collapse in a happy, panting puddle at my feet, I wonder if I just might be Nancy Disney? (Ok, that does have a nice ring to it.)

Uh oh. Time for Responsible Nancy to put on her educational hat.

Admittedly, life with Kainan so far has been pretty smooth. Ah, but Jim and I are not average dog owners. We are Crazy Dog People. Yes, I’m going to own that and make it a formal title. We take in dogs of all shapes and sizes. We train dogs. My business is dog-centric. We have even helped rescue wolfdogs in the past. We are not rookies.

However, all the experience in the world does not a good, responsible decision make. Anytime anyone is thinking of adding an animal to their world there are many factors to be considered.  Homework must be done. Most importantly, you have to be willing to walk away if the animal in question is not a good fit for you.

I think anyone considering adopting a wolfdog should have to read Living with Wolfdogs, An Everyday Guide to a Lifetime Companionship by Nicole Wilde, author and canine behavior specialist. (Best last name EVER for someone who is a wolfdog expert.)

I have long admired Nicole Wilde as a dog trainer and I have been fortunate enough to attend dog training seminars she has conducted. She knows her stuff. Let’s pretend she is our retroactive adoption counselor.

Nicole (I decided we are on a first name basis) would say something like, “So…you think you want a wolfdog? Let’s have a chat about that idea.”

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Brave Kainan…who stands several inches taller than any dog in our house…falling to the ground and making himself very tiny when our two in-charge Dalmatian boys even look at him.

Nicole: Why do you want a wolfdog? Do you think you’re getting the ultimate watchdog?  Wolves are actually very shy by nature and would rather retreat than confront an intruder.

Nan/Jim answer: I can tell you first hand that when our dogs go charging into the yard to scare off what they would have us believe must be an eight foot tall cyclops, brave Kainan is more than happy to hang back with the humans…perhaps standing behind the humans. It’s not a problem. We feel certain we can protect Kainan from the boogeyman.

Nicole: Wolfdogs are highly social, pack-oriented animals that require a lot of time, attention, and socialization. Are you willing to make that commitment?

Nan/Jim answer: Party with the wolfdog! Yay! He will likely have a better social life than we do.

Nicole: Wolves are very social creatures and don’t care to spend a lot of time alone. If the humans can’t be home most of the time, the wolfdog will need a canine buddy. Can you provide adequate companionship for a wolfdog?

20140930_092423Nan/Jim answer: I’m sorry. Can you repeat that question? The 20-someodd dogs in this house all decided to lick a body part at the same time. Alone is not an issue here. Space on the bed is. Kainan is already tickled pink with his ready-made family.

Nicole: Do you have neighbors? Do you like them? Do you want them to like you? If the sight of something that resembles a wolf in your yard doesn’t put a strain on your relationship, then the wolfdog’s howling just might.

Nan/Jim answer: Neighbors? What neighbors? We live on 72.5 acres of country bliss. Ok, we do have some friends who live to the west of us. While they have been very patient about marauding donkeys and pigs, we do have a secure dog yard and will see to it that Kainan does not make any unscheduled visits to their home.  Any howling will just blend in with the resident coyotes.

Nicole: Wolfdogs are known to be amazing escape artists. Most require six foot fencing…and even a fence of that height may not do the trick. Just how secure is that secure dog yard?

Nan/Jim answer: We have indoor/outdoor runs in our house that keeps Kainan safe and comfy while we are away. We supervise him when we are home. So far he has shown no desire to test any physical boundaries because there are no couches visible on the other side of the fence. We will, however, modify our fencing if necessary. We hear that maximum security is the new landscaping chic.

Nicole: How do you feel about digging, chewing, and relentless curiosity? (Relentless curiosity…her words and they describe Kainan PERFECTLY.)

Nan/Jim answer: This one seems a bit redundant to the Crazy Dog People whose two darling Dalmatian girls have tunneled an underground condominium in the yard fit for the Royal family. “Curiosity” is not a problem. We have already been introduced to Kainan’s incredible ability to reach anything on any surface. Oh, and the wall in the upstairs hall is apparently quite tasty. As is the corner of one ottoman. And the magazine that just came in the mail today. And still, we wouldn’t trade him for all of the intact drywall in the world.

Nicole: Wolfdogs are very intelligent, can be quite independent, and do not respond to harsh training methods. Are you willing to learn about wolves’ vocalizations and body language? Will you explore alternative training methods essential for successfully living with and training a wolfdog?

Nan/Jim answer: We embrace the opportunity to learn more about our new friend. Obviously, your book is a great resource (no, we are not just sucking up!) and we are lucky to have great support from our friends at Freedom Song Wolf Rescue. Our training methods are already centered on reward-based techniques, so you are preaching to the choir on that front. Kainan already knows sit, down, shake hands, speak, and sit politely while I deliver your dinner. Our wolfdog is smarter than your honor student.

Nicole: Last, but not least, have you checked to see if it is legal for you to own a wolfdog in your area? They are illegal in many cities.

Nan/Jim answer: While wolfdogs are not legal in the city of Tulsa, out here in Creek County, just outside of Mounds, Oklahoma, pretty much anything goes. We’ve even seen a kangaroo in a nearby paddock. Yep. A kangaroo.

At this point in the interview, I envision Nicole Wilde dabbing tears from her eyes, hugging us, and telling us that we are perhaps the most perfect home in the world for Kainan. And I think we are. We are very committed to him.

Of course a little warning from our friends at Freedom Song keeps bouncing around in my head and it’s the one thing that keeps me from getting too complacent about Kainan. Wolves and some higher content wolfdogs do not really mature until 22 months or older. That means we really don’t yet know how wolfie our wolfdog is going to be. His temperament could change as he matures. It could.

20140901_103907But I also know that Jim and I are prepared for whatever may come. Sweet wolfdog (my bet) or eventual big, bad wolf (hard to imagine)—we’ll stick with our boy.

For now?  Well, Kainan is wonderful, sweet, funny, affectionate, and seemingly quite happy to be with us.  Honestly, it is all sunshine and daisies right now. Well, mostly sunshine and daisies. There is the issue of that one last piece of pink-frosted vanilla birthday cake goodness that, instead of being MY treat, went into Mr. Hey-Look-What-I-Can-Do’s belly.

Still…he’s totally worth it.

Facebook. It Wasn’t A Huge Waste of Time This Time, Betty.

ImageLet me start by saying that I love Betty White. Truly. I adore her.

First, she is ageless. She is living proof that if you love what you do and keep working, you can live a long, healthy, fun-filled life. She is also a huge animal lover and advocate, serving as a trustee for the Morris Animal Foundation since 1971.

I’ve grown up watching her on sitcoms, in movies, and even as a host of Saturday Night Live. It’s this latter appearance where she made a statement that I think she might rethink if she knew Gus. Who is Gus, you ask? Hang on. I’ll explain.

After landing the SNL hosting gig following a successful Facebook campaign entitled “Betty White to Host SNL (please?),” White, in her opening monologue, said:

I didn’t know what Facebook was, and now that I do know what it is, I have to say, it sounds like a huge waste of time.

Ok, the monologue was hysterical and Betty was a complete and total homerun for SNL. But Facebook…a huge waste of time? Betty, meet Gus. He thinks Facebook is awesome.

In addition to being a place where friends, new and old, connect; a place where people share photos, funny thoughts, emotions, and, sometimes, just too darn much information, Facebook has also become a valuable networking tool for helping connect homeless pets with potential adopters or rescue groups.

ImageAh, the power of the share. I was glancing through my FB newsfeed the other day when I noticed that a friend (thanks Venus!) had tagged me in a post about a dog in a nearby animal shelter. I get tagged on a lot of these posts as people network for different animals and shelters. This one, however, immediately piqued my interest.

The photo showed a Dalmatian. Yes, my beloved breed of choice. And it was not only a Dalmatian, but it was a senior. Oh, there’s another one of my weaknesses.  Sweet old guys.

In a flash, I re-shared the post with a one word question/tag…Jim?

I know I mention in a lot of posts what a great guy Jim is. I think we’re up to reason number 576,432 why I love Jim. This will make reason number 576,433. Jim didn’t question a thing…he just sent a message asking me if I was calling the shelter or if he should. And in mere moments, there was another message that simply said: I’m picking him up at noon.

No debate. There was no we-already-have-enough-foster-dogs comment. There was just a quick decision that this old guy would not spend his last days in a shelter. Go Jim!

Upon arriving at the shelter, the animal control officer told Jim that he knew very little about the old dog. In fact, the only thing that was actually known about him was that he was shoved from a moving pickup truck into the road in front of the local fire station. Well, of course. What a responsible, compassionate move. Because, as we all know, part of the firefighters’ code of ethics requires that they must immediately take responsibility for all unwanted Dalmatians. Sure.

So the old throw-away dog who would become “Gus” went for a ride with Jim away from the tiny, but determined animal shelter in Mannford, Oklahoma, back to meet our veterinarian and good friend, Dr. Lauren. Lauren allows all of our dogs to be on a first name basis with her. She’s cool like that.

During his exam it was found that Gus was underweight by 15 pounds or more—approximately 30% shy of his ideal body weight. While he was thankfully free of heartworms, Dr. Lauren did find an advanced heart murmur and arthritis. He was treated for intestinal parasites. Both ears were crinkled from past hematomas, likely caused by ear infections. His teeth were pronounced, and I believe this is a technical medical term, extremely nasty. They guessed Gus’ age at somewhere around 12 years. I think they were being a bit generous. My guess is that his age has the word teen in it.

ImageWith further necessary testing and medical treatments on the horizon, Gus was first desperately in need of some good food and a comfortable place to rest.  Our home had plenty of both. And so Jim brought our new/old boy home.

Our current herd of on-purpose and foster dogs are no strangers to meeting newcomers. We have a bit of a revolving door around here. We always introduce a new dog carefully and gradually to be sure everyone is going to get along. Just because WE like a new dog, does not mean our existing canine residents will agree. We do not need a doggy smack-down in our living room.

In Gus’ case, his introduction to our furry family was blissfully anticlimactic. It was as if our other dogs—including a gang of rambunctious youngsters—appeared to immediately recognize that this sweet old guy was certainly no threat to any perceived doggy hierarchy. After many sniffs were exchanged, Gus set off in his stuttering gait to investigate his new situation, a parade of curious new friends tagging along.

I always wonder what must be passing through the minds of these old guys who have, for whatever reason, been abandoned in one of the most vulnerable times of their lives. Some seem elated to come into our home. Some come in showing fear and mistrust. Gus just seemed a bit numb.

His eyes were blank and empty. His tail hung limply. He accepted attention, but seemed to hardly notice scratches in all the right places, often moving along after a moment or two when any other dog would have stayed put, stretching and groaning in pleasure.

ImageFor the first several hours in our home, Gus just paced. He walked every inch of our house. He found the dog door, headed outside and paced the perimeter of our yard. Then he came back inside and paced the entire route again. Over and over and over.

Was there more wrong with Gus that initial exams did not reveal? Did Gus have potential to relax and enjoy whatever time he might have left? Or was he plagued by the dog version of Alzheimer’s disease?

The only thing that finally stopped Gus’ trek that first night was a bowl of food topped off with some enticing chunks of chicken. Ahhhhh! The old guy had a good appetite. He plopped flat to the floor with the bowl between his front legs and ate every last bite.

After a bit more pacing and frequent bouts of heart-murmur related, body wracking coughing, Gus finally found one of our 40,000 (perhaps I exaggerate) big soft dog beds and collapsed in exhaustion. That first night he slept for at least nine hours straight through. It was the kind of deep sleep that made me stop to watch for breathing every time I passed by him.

ImageThe next day was filled with more pacing, but also with increased interest every time I headed toward the dog food bin. Now, instead of random pacing, more often than not, Jim and I found Gus following close behind as we moved around there house. His eyes still seemed vacant, his tail was still motionless, but there was something more purposeful in his step.

Finally we would find him looking up to meet our eyes. Was there hope in those eyes? Some sort of expectation? Was there relief? Actually, what I believe I saw was the glimmer of growing trust.

Later, in Gus’ second evening with us, on one of his rounds through the house, he walked straight up to where Jim and I sat on the couch. As I leaned forward to pet him and scratch his bony back, Gus raised his head and very deliberately licked my nose.

Jim and I smiled at our new/old boy. Deep inside the old dog’s stoic facade, there really was a grateful, tail-thumping soul.

Now, following another visit to the vet less than a week after Jim picked him up at the shelter, I am happy to report that Gus has Imagegained nearly five pounds. He is now on four different medications—three to help stabilize his heart condition and one to bring comfort to arthritic joints. Gus paces less frequently, naps more frequently, and is prone to emitting a loud, melancholy howl if he can’t figure out where Jim and I are in the house. Any day now I expect to be blessed by the wag of his tail.

Our dear Gus now has a secure place to call home. He has also secured a place in our hearts. Our job from this point forward is to keep him comfortable, to meet his care requirements, to give him loving attention, and to make sure he enjoys good quality of life.  Whether he wants to stick around for a few weeks, a few months, or even more, we’re committed to giving Gus a good life. And someday, when he’s ready to go, we’ll be there to see him through. His story will not end alone in a cramped little shelter.

So, Betty.  Is Facebook really a huge waste of time?  This time, not so much. I know I speak for Gus when I say he agrees. I’m pretty sure you, dear Betty, would agree as well.   One simple share resulted in one sweet old life allowed a bit more time with a promise of dignity to the end.

Jim and I have taken in numerous senior dogs through the years. I can honestly tell you that some of our most cherished foster dogs have been our old guys. There is something so sweet and special about getting to know and love a dog that has several years under his belt. So many people say they could never give their hearts to a dog that may only be around for a short amount of time, and I can understand that thought. I would suggest, however, that the concept of quality vs quantity truly has meaning when learning to embrace the idea of fostering or adopting a senior. Whatever time we have with our old friends is so special. I would encourage anyone with a little extra space in their home… with a dog bed to spare…to consider adopting an older dog. In our world, they give back twice as much as they take. 

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Now, Eighteen.

Now, Eighteen.

Chip the day he came into our home as a foster dog.

What does the number 18 mean to you?

If it’s an age, to me it is very young. If it’s your age, you likely think you’re very old, but you’re not. Trust me.

If it’s the number of things on your to-do list, you’re likely feeling overwhelmed.

If it’s the number of presents you received for Christmas, you are feeling very loved, and possibly a little spoiled.

If it’s the number of dogs in your house you might feel very outnumbered and quite insane.

For me, the number 18 does refer to the latter. But, it doesn’t feel overwhelming. Maybe a little insane, but it’s my insanity and I’m accustomed to it. Actually, 18 dogs in our house feels really manageable. A little quiet.

Dog number 19 left today for his new home. He is a cute, gangly Dalmatian boy. We called him Chip. I don’t yet know what his new family plans to call him.

Chip came to foster with us this past September. He had not had a bad life, but was just the victim of a twist of fate. The family that purchased him as a little puppy thought they would soon move into a new house with a big back yard. The timing, they believed, would all work out perfectly. Then life happened. The new house was not going to be a reality, but the active puppy in a one bedroom apartment was very real.

They decided to let us find Chip a new home through the Dalmatian Assistance League, Inc. I was very pleased to be able to help this family and this very sweet young dog.

We are picky when we search for new homes for our foster friends. Everything has to be right because we want their next home to be their final home. Chip had a lot of interest over the past few months, but there was always something that kept me from placing him.

Finally, thanks to a referral from a friend, a couple applied to adopt Chip and it was an almost-too-good-to-be-true match. Chip met humans…it was love. Chip met older Weimaraner sister-to-be…well, maybe not love at first sniff, but compatible. Definitely compatible.

And today, after a bath, lots of hugs, and a few words whispered in his floppy ear to PLEASE be good and not eat all their stuff, Chip headed off to start his new life.

And so my home is a bit quieter tonight. I have one less mouth to feed. One crate that will be empty. But, I do have a new photo of an obviously content dog in his new home. I have a happy heart knowing that Chip is in very good, loving hands. And I still have a few more foster dogs waiting for their “and they all lived happily ever after” ending.

Eighteen. It’s a great number today.

Chip snuggling in his new home. A sweet success story.

Chip snuggling in his new home. A sweet success story.